Posts Tagged ‘book’


If you would have told me twelve months ago where I’d be at the end of 2011, I would have called you a liar, yes… but I also would have kicked you in the shin for getting my hopes up. At this time last year, I had no idea I would be where I am right now and I have to say, it’s a pretty good place. In 2011, my whole life changed. And I even got some writing done.

In June, I quit my job of thirteen years and moved out of the state. I wasn’t happy and I hadn’t been for a very long time. The cause of this unhappiness was not the fault of my former employer. In fact, I worked for a good company. The trouble was, as good of a job as it was, it had nothing to do with me. What I mean is, I think there comes a point in every person’s life when he or she needs to look at his or her vocation and ask, “Am I doing something that only I can do? Is what I’m doing using any of my personal strengths? Are any of my needs being met by this job?” The answer to these questions for me was a very clear “no.” I knew that early on of course, but it took the right set of circumstances and me gathering enough courage to give fear of failure the middle finger before I dared to take the leap. But I finally did. And it was not a mistake.

The month of August I was in New Orleans where I spent several days with David, my best friend from childhood. We explored the entire French Quarter. We went on vampire, ghost and voodoo tours. We met fascinating people from all over the world. We saw boobs. I wore my pajamas down Bourbon Street. It rocked.

From there, I visited my father-in-law in Georgia where we went to several Civil War museums, saw numerous Antebellum-style homes, learned everything we could about the south and the Civil War, and visited the Cabbage Patch Factory (it was amazing… really).

After that, it was off to Myrtle Beach. We played in the ocean, ran in the rain, and went to famous aquariums, zoos and restaurants.

When the vacation was over, I was ready to get settled into my new life in a new location. I found a job that I absolutely love and just last week, I flew home from New York City where we spent several days. With all of that traveling, I still managed to accomplish many of my writing-related goals, too.

At this time last year, my manuscript, The White Room, was in New York being looked at by an agent.  My mentor Kim and I were just getting ready to start on the story we’re now calling Gallery of Dolls. I don’t think I had even gotten the idea for Alejandro, the book I’m working on now, but I’m sure it was somewhere in my mind, bouncing around and trying to take shape.

Presently, The White Room is still looking for a home, Gallery of Dolls is in the final stages of revisions (and will be ready for submissions within the next month or so!), I’m about five chapters into Alejandro, and Kim and I are tentatively plotting a new idea for our next collaborative effort which we’re thinking will be a story involving witchcraft, love, family betrayal and the Black Plague.

Also, whereas the past year and a half has been devoted to becoming educated on the art of novel-writing, proper grammar, and English in general, I think 2012 will bring me a deeper understanding of the business side of the writing equation: the publishing industry. My new job is one that puts me right in the center of all the publishing excitement! On a regular basis, I get to talk to other writers and even book publishers. I am learning which publishers publish what, why the publishing industry is currently so tough, and (tentatively) when and how we can expect it to turn around. My new job  is thoroughly educating me on the thing I love more than anything: writing… that is a perk I did not expect when I took this job.

If I were to try to summarize the last year and somehow label it, I would say 2011 was a year for soul-searching.  Having exhausted my capacity for impotent wish, this year I purposely walked into unknown territory and made life a verb again. I am working on some New Years Resolutions but I’ve learned that goal-setting needs to be tended to far more often than just once a year. That being said, I hope that 2012 is as productive and happy as 2011 was. I hope this for me and for you!

Happy Holidays and keep writing!

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It only takes one glance at the cover of a romance novel to realize that this genre does not expel its resources to try to appeal to the male portion of the human race. And why should they? It’s a well-known fact that men are more interested in action than intimacy, blood than love, and are far more likely to invest their time and money into the invigoration of adrenaline rather than the gentle stimulation of their softer sides, right? Personally, I don’t think this is true. I think it’s an image thing. In truth, most romance novels have qualities which appeal to men and women equally… you just don’t want your friends to see you reading one. The main reason for this, in my opinion is: the cover. I don’t especially enjoy portraits of flawless men, ravishing though they may be, whose shirts are thrust open by unaccountable midnight winds at the exact moment he envelopes a blandly attractive damsel in his arms whilst the moonlight glitters like polished rhinestone on the lake in the background.

Get past the cover though, and you might be surprised. While I have found over and over again that good storytelling is good storytelling, no matter how you package it or who you aim it at, I admit to generally avoiding the romance genre. There are those exceptions though; those fascinating novels I will devour in a couple of sittings and would later gladly slip under the table to my buddy at a seedy bar somewhere. My latest find is called “Nocturne”, an awesome novel by a woman named Syrie James, author of Dracula, My Love, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, and The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte.

I came across Nocturne at a Wal-Mart here in Georgia, and although they say not to judge a book by its cover, that’s exactly what I did. I’ve always had a passionate love affair with contrast of all kinds, so I was drawn in by the picture of the rose in the snow. I had no idea it was going to be a romantic type of book, and by the time I realized it was, I was too drawn into the story to care. Thanks be to whoever designed the book cover… for, had I been visually assaulted with a scantily clad Fabio (or Fabio look-alike), I doubt I would have ever picked it up.

I read Nocturne in two days and after I was finished, I went on a mission to contact Syrie and let her know how impressed I was, because, after all, I was certain she cared that much about my opinion, lol. As it turns out, Syrie James is a very kind woman who does in fact, care very much about her readers’ opinions. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, men and women alike. Check out Syrie James at: www.syriejames.com, and remember… always judge a book by its cover!


You’d think that after spending the countless hours, days, weeks and months required to write a novel, you’d get to relax. You did your research, developed your story, and invested almost all of your free time into writing it. Now 80 to 120 thousand words later, it would be nice to be able to call it finished. Unfortunately, the hard part is just beginning. Now it’s time to reread, revise and rehash.

Although this is not my favorite part of the writing process, it certainly isn’t the worst. Revisions are a good opportunity to strengthen story, add necessary detail, and perhaps most important of all, cut the fat.

I’ve learned that there are a few key things to look for in the editing process. One of them is character consistency. Are the characters solid? Do they remain true to their base nature throughout the story, and if the character goes through personal changes, are they believable? In Gallery of Dolls (the project formerly known as ‘An Evil Heart’), this wasn’t too big of a problem. My main character was very clear to me from the beginning and I was happy to see that he remained pretty true to himself throughout. There were a few lines of dialogue though, that when reread, didn’t sound like him. These, luckily, are easy fixes.

Plot consistency and holes in the plot are another, and probably the worst, potential good-story-destroyers that are commonly found in the revision process. Rereading Gallery of Dolls, Kim (my co-author) and I discovered some interesting issues. Hearing the story front to back, we think we may have to move the meeting of our two characters up a couple of chapters. This means some very serious rewriting and I am hoping that once we have a few outsiders read the story, it won’t be as big of an issue as I am afraid of. Beyond that, we found minor inconsistencies. I will need to go in and add a couple new scenes to smooth some transition but that’s about the worst of it.

Another thing to look for in revisions are wasted words. I tend to reiterate. And reiterate. This is a very bad habit that needs to stop. But that’s what revisions are for. It never ceases to amaze me how much stronger a sentence can become by taking away from it rather than adding to it. Adverbs are a fine example of this… but I’ll get into that later.

Also, a lot of what you find in revisions are total surprises. When we reread Gallery of Dolls, we found an unusual likeness in the names of our characters: almost all of them started with a C. We had Courtney, Cassidy, Claire, Connie, Claudia, Cassandra, and Carlisle the cop. We don’t know how or why this happened, but there it is. Again, this is an easy fix. We have since changed several of the names.

The last thing I like to do in revisions is assassinate the adverbs. Not all adverbs are bad, of course, but when it comes to these cute little verb modifiers, a little goes a long way. In my first drafts, I never worry too much about them. Personally, I love adverbs, but it really is true that there is usually (<—-see? adverbs!) a finer way of saying what you meant without them, so the last thing I do is an “ly” search in my document. I go through each adverb and see if there isn’t an opportunity for more powerful phrasing.

Like it or not, revisions are a necessary part of (good) writing. Many people are intimidated by the process. Others believe they are golden enough that their work requires no revision. Personally, I try to write clean first drafts in order to keep editing to a minimum, but the fact remains that in order to get the book written, you need to sit down and actually write it. In order for me to do this, I have to try my best to minimize or eliminate the need to edit as I go. If I am editing as I go… I am usually not going at all. It’s a slippery slope.

The worst part about revisions in my opinion, is that after reading your story over and over, it loses its shine and numbs you out until it’s impossible to even tell if the story is any good. I think this is a good time to put the story down for a while and pick it up when you can view it with semi-fresh eyes again. That’s where I’m at right now. I need to not look at it for a couple of weeks. Our goal is to have it presentable by October, so if I take one or two more weeks away from it, we should easily be able to attain it. Till then… I’ll be thinking of the next story…

Write (and revise) on! And remember….

 


    

     Life is incredibly short.  The saddest part about this is that we spend so much of what little time we have wondering how to spend it, and once we do figure out how we want to spend it, we are met with resistance, negativity and that two-letter word we all hate most of all: No. After so much of this, we just want to throw our hands in the air and go back to our places in line, accepting the grind as our lots in life and carrying on, moment to moment, day after day, playing it safe and making sure not to rock the boat of monotony.   This might work for a while, but eventually, those notions of something greater, something more meaningful, will catch up to us, tackle us, and pin us to the ground, demanding we heed our own instincts that we’re capable of more.  When we’ve reach that point in life where we’ve put fear in its place and thickened our skins enough to take the punches, there are a few things we can do to counter-balance the effects of the coming obstacles and impediments in order to keep our spirits and our passions in check.  At the forefront of that list, in my opinion, is to have a support network. 

     Whether you’re a writer, a college graduate, a stay-at-home mom, or a poodle groomer, you don’t have time to divulge in anyone else’s version of reality, unless it supports your own success unequivocally.  The fact is, no one but you knows those core truths about you that, if listened to and acted upon, will carry you to your root allocation in life.  We’ve all been out of our elements.  We’ve all taken jobs that simply paid the bills, we’ve all catered to the fear of failure and we’ve all fallen into the designs of someone else’s masterpiece.  It isn’t a good place to be.  We struggle, we fight, we get by… and we don’t even know what for; and all the while we try to ignore the fact that we simply don’t have time for that; that sadly, life comes… and then it goes.

     I’ve reached a point in my own life where, if someone dared to tell me I couldn’t do a thing, I would smile, nod and walk as far away from them as my feet would take me.  My own mother wouldn’t be afforded the luxury of discouraging me, so one can imagine how I might feel about even the gentlest of promptings from a stranger, a friend of a friend, or a stagnant and embittered second cousin through marriage.  If I let these people affect me, I will be discouraged and impotent,  and, as far as I’m concerned, if I let these people make my decisions, I have no right to occupy my own body. 

     So I surround myself with people who have dreams of their own and who believe in mine.  I don’t view this as a simple choice so much as a strategy move essential for survival.  Whatever paths we choose to execute in life, we will be met with enough interference, restraint and discouragement.  It’s just not lucrative to allow it into your immediate personal space.  Your social life should be reserved for those who foster your goals, stimulate your drive and help cultivate your personal empowerment.  In his book, The Master Key to Riches, Napoleon Hill refers to this as the “Mastermind Alliance.”  While I am not typically a fan of self-help or motivational literature, I think he was definitely on the right track with that one, and I recommend the book to anyone.

     If you’re walking, talking and breathing, you have passion.  Even if you have to look for it a little, it’s there.  And passion without purpose and precision is just white noise.  Part of who and what you surround yourself with is part of that precision, so I’ve come to believe in the value of choosing wisely my immediate environment.  I’m standing in a foreign place in my life right now.  Not just in my writing but in everything else as well.  I am at a precipice, looking over the edge at everything I know, just daring the wind to blow a little and knock me off my feet.  But everything I feared is twice removed.  There are a million reasons I can’t succeed and yet all I can think about is the one reason I can: because I want it that damned bad.  Now, more than ever, I’m glad I have nothing around me except the highest caliber of believers, and I’m grateful that, as depressing as it is, I realize how little time there is.

     There isn’t time to listen to anyone else tell you what you should do.  All you need to know is that fish belong in water, painters belong on canvas and writers belong on paper.  It’s just a matter of finding out who you are… your station in life will follow.  Time is precious.  So, if you’re going to stop and smell the roses, first be sure you’re not standing in someone else’s garden.


   

     Earlier today, I had an unusual and rather in-depth conversation with a good friend of mine about sex.  We talked about everything from the obvious basics to the more sophisticated habits, rituals and desires of our fellow men and women, musing over the roots of their various tastes and beliefs.  Many hours later, I again wound up engaged in yet another sex-based discussion with a different friend entirely.  This talk centered more around sexual orientation rather than the act itself, but still, today’s sexual theme was not lost on me, and it made me wonder at the sudden prominence of the subject of sex.  After all, despite what it may sound like right now, I don’t usually sit around and discuss the various forms of human intimacy with everyone I know.   I don’t even know what inspired the topic in either case, but it got me thinking of how dominant of a force sex really is in our lives, and how important it is in writing.

     For all the years I’ve been writing, sex has never been one of my subjects until recently (except a little erotic poetry, of course).  I wasn’t avoiding the topic really, it’s just that until I began the book I’m working on now, there was never a place for sex.  I’ve been pretty diligent about incorporating all the other factors that make characters feel more human, such as bathing, brushing their teeth, changing their clothes and getting an occassional night’s sleep, but it never occurred to me that perhaps fictional people like having sex, too.  Until now.

     In the book I’m currently working on, it’s as if all the sex-starved characters of fiction’s past are exacting their revenge on me.  In this story, I don’t think a chapter has gone by that someone wasn’t getting skins, knocking boots, doing the horizontal hokey pokey, or at least getting well felt up.  The particularly challenging thing is, in this book, no one is having conventional sex.  The main character is a perverse, sexually deviant murderer, so most of the time, the sex isn’t even consensual, making this especially foreign territory for me.  But I’m learning.

     One thing I’ve determined about fictional sex is that it follows the same basic rules of fictional anything.  In the world of fiction, everything seems to be slightly dramatized. When fictional characters are rich, for example, they are filthy rich.  If they’re depressed, then they’re really tormented… and if they have sex, they have a lot of sex, and if it’s good sex, then it’s got to be mind-bogglingly great sex.  The key, of course, is striking a balance that is believable but also engaging.  If you don’t amp up the intensity of the characters lives and emotions, then you’ve got a story as dull and lifeless as, well… real life, and why would anyone want to read a book about someone whose life is as drab as their own?  But, on the other hand, if you aggrandize your character’s experiences too much, it becomes melodramatic and ultimately alienates the reader.  Regarding sex, striking this balance is an especially challenging feat for me.

     There are other problems also.  I’m finding that writing about sex (especially sex of the deviant variety) is a multi-faceted and precarious thing in that, on one hand, there’s the fear of repulsing and offending your reader, and on the other hand, setting out to do just that. After all, don’t I kind of want to repulse and offend the reader?  And if so, to what degree? 

     Also, there is description.  Just how much detail do we need?  Do we need to know how bad Martha wants it (or in my case, doesn’t want it), and is it important to mention the exact bodily and psychological responses of each character in this situation? 

     Finally, there is word choice.  This one is especially tricky because there are times that the clinical terms for certain acts (or parts of the anatomy) just don’t properly illustrate the mood you’re trying to create.  Which brings us back to the first problem: am I offending the reader? 

     It’s a cyclical and potentially stressful dilemma, writing about sex.  And add to this your mother’s voice (real or imagined) – disapproving and stunned by your foulness – to the mix, and you’ve got a pretty toxic cocktail of troublesome puzzles to contend with.

     For me, the key to overcoming the stumbling block that is sex can be found in two words:  just write.  I can’t stop and think about what the agent, the mother, the sister, the priest, or the produce manager at Wal-Mart is going to think of my book.  If I do that, then I’ll be writing to please other people.  And if I do that… then I’ve lost all integrity and should look into getting a new, tamer passion than writing.  No matter what you do, some people will love you and some people will hate you.  The way I see it, I’d garner just as much criticism if I wrote stories about butterflies and dandelions… so I might as well write what feels true to me, because in the end, my own truth is all I have… and honoring that is the only way I know how to sleep with a clear (well… somewhat dirty) conscience.

   


     So yesterday (slash last night, slash this morning), we completed the first comprehensive read-through of Project: Evil Heart.  It was far less of a disaster than I anticipated.  Still, it was a process that took over sixteen hours (minus an hour or two for breaks for food and drink, plus a little of the inevitable unrelated chit-chat), but over all, it was a more positive and encouraging experience than I’d hoped for.

     Also yesterday, before we began working, we attended a seminar where one of the speakers was Patricia G. Stevenson, author of The Dilapidated Man.  Her advice was this:  “Listen to your characters.  They’ll tell you what to do.  No, you would never do the same things they would, and some of the things they do may be appalling to you, but if you trust them, they’ll write your book for you.”  Those were just the words I’ve been needing to hear.

     Since day one of this story, I have had issues with my main character.  He is a violent, terrible, fiendish demon in the flesh, and I suppose I’ve always been a little afraid of being judged for having written him.  This was, as far as I was concerned, just part of the territory though.  In time, I figured my skin would thicken and I would hopefully one day be proud of Mr. Sterling Bronson.  That day came sooner than I expected.  Yesterday, as we read the first ten chapters of the manuscript, I found within the confines of all his wickedness, a rare kind of beauty.  This character, although still all of the terrible things he is, is an accurate representation of the dark side, and having heard his story with a little more continuity, I have to say, I kinda like him.  This surprised me because I haven’t enjoyed writing him and yet, his friend Brytt, who I love writing, is ultimately, much less likable to me.

          The only technical problems we found in the read through were timeline issues and over used “comfort lines”.  What I am referring to when I say “comfort lines” are those expressions and descriptions that the writer becomes way too comfortable using and therefore implements over and over… and over.  In The White Room, my biggest comfort line was, “There was a long stretch of silence.”  Originally, there were so many long stretches of silence in fact, that it was a wonder the manuscript contained any dialog at all.  In An Evil Heart, my comfort (word) seems to be “stiffening.”  A lot of stiffening goes on in this story; stiffening muscles, stiffening spines, stiffening in the boxer shorts… it was out of control and ninety percent of it needs to go.  Kim’s comfort line was, “there was an ache in my chest.”  Her character had so many aches in her chest throughout the first ten chapters that we joked that perhaps the girl needed an EKG.

    All in all, these were easy fixes.  We removed the comfort lines in favor of more original expressions and now just need to tweak the timelines a little.  The difficulty with the timelines is that Kim and I are writing alternating chapters and half the time, I don’t even know what day we are supposed to be on, but there was only one real significant flaw in the timing, and a simple transposing of events will clear the inconsistency right up.

     For all the dreading and worrying I’ve done over this, I’m now very glad we did the read through.  It flowed smoothly and read like a pretty damned good book.  I’m now approaching the second half of the story with a revivified enthusiasm and a heightened sense of accomplishment.  We figure we have about fourteen more chapters to write and the finished project should be done and ready to be looked at by mid-July.  Also, I’ve set the goal of beginning a third book (this one will be a solitary project) by the first of May and having that one finished by the end of 2011, so there will be a couple of months where projects overlap, assuming An Evil Heart runs on time, but I’m not too worried about it.  I still love every minute of this and for me, it isn’t like work at all.

         


        At some point in the writing of every novel, the time comes when the author (or authors) need to block out a broad segment of time, sit down and read the story from page one to the last page written, and take out their little mental microscopes and search for all the little (and large) mistakes that weaken (or entirely ruin) their stories.  This is called a “comprehensive reading.” 

     Today marks the finish of chapter ten of “An Evil Heart,” the joint novel I’ve been writing with my friend and mentor, Kim Williams-Justesen (Mimi).  I spent several hours at her home yesterday, and a few more hours this morning, finishing up the scenes that we weren’t able to write without the other person being present.  Now that the paths of her character and my character are fully intertwined, me and Kim’s “together time” will need to be multiplied.   Kim and I have chosen to do comprehensive readings about every ten chapters, so I will spend the next week revising and refining the previous chapters so that the story can be read with as little interruption as possible.  

     A week from today, she and I will get together, find a relatively private location and spend the whole day reading what we’ve written.  Because I hate to read aloud, and am more audibly oriented in my learning style, Kim reads and I listen.  This is a tedious process, but it is where all the logic flaws, plot problems, character inconsistencies and previously overlooked grammatical errors shine through.  

     Although this will be the first read-through we’ve done of An Evil Heart, we did several on my first book, The White Room (which is currently looking for a home somewhere in New York right now), so I have an idea of how this works.  It is a process that can take anywhere from nine to thirteen hours.  But it’s worth it.  In my previous read-throughs, I was continually amazed by the blatant errors an author of a novel can overlook.  Worst of all, perhaps, are the logic flaws.

     A logic flaw is just that: a flaw in logic.  During one read-through, I was made embarrassingly aware that a character had taken the last sip of the same beer three different times.  At another point, a crucifix that burst into flames and turned to ash suddenly reappeared in a characters front pocket.  These little things are so easily written but become terribly apparent when read aloud. 

    Plot consistency is another obstacle you’ll contend with during a comprehensive reading. For example, in The White Room, I had created vampires who, of course, could not go out into the daylight.  I can not count how many times a vampire appeared in the middle of the day, totally unaware of the sun shining above.  In writing entities who could only survive in the darkness, I realized I’d placed a terrible restriction on myself and continually had to change the story around to keep consistent with the “reality” of the storyline.    

     Characters also like to lose consistency throughout the duration of a novel, and some characters end up being completely unnecessary.  There was one character I really liked and wanted to give more presence to.  Reading the story through, I realized this character seemed like a kind of strange appendage of the larger characters, and really had no place in the story other than the original two or three lines she was given.  I then had to go back and cut her out of all the scenes she didn’t fit into.  At another time, one of my characters voices changed so dramatically as the story progressed that by the end, he was nearly unrecognizable.  He began as a wise type who used proper English and eventually evolved into the barely educated boy next door.  This was one of the largest problems I had with that story and it took considerable time and energy to rephrase all of his dialog as well as correct his general disposition. 

    Not all flaws are big ones though.  Reading your manuscript through, you could continually find little sentences and phrases that, when heard aloud, just sound ridiculous.  “Bob flicked concerned eyes at me.”  Oh yeah?  And from just whose head did Bob pluck these concerned eyes out of?  And why on earth did he flick them at me? 

    These are just a few examples of the potential corrections a comprehensive reading offers a writer.   If it weren’t for several such sessions of my last story, I could have easily made the fatal mistake of sending a fault-riddled manuscript off to an agent, who would take one look at it and surely deem me unfit to write fiction. 

     I am both excited and reluctant to see what errors we find in An Evil Heart.   I’m learning that we humans, unfortunately, are flawed creatures by nature and we insert a little of that nature into everything we produce.  A comprehensive reading is a good way to spot and correct enough problems that by the time the story reaches the hands of an agent or editor, it is in acceptable and semi-professional condition.  The side effect to this, of course, is that by the end, you’ll be so tired of your own story that you’ll just want to kill every character in it call it a day.  But don’t.  It’s about that time that you know you’re getting close to being done. 

   And no, it will never be perfect. But it can be damned good… and given the right amount of attention to detail, you might even find an agent who agrees.